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It is important to rely on accurate and reliable information when crafting a land acknowledgement. As member of the COUNCIL OF THREE RIVERS AMERICAN INDIAN CENTER it is my responsibility to assist individuals and organizations in our region in the task of crafting accurate and relevant land acknowledgements that correspond to western Pennsylvania. This post is intended to present the appropriate information needed to create a good land acknowledgement for our area of the state.


The region of western Pennsylvania has been the home of a wide variety of Indigenous people since at least as early as 19,000 years ago, a fact evidenced by the archeological material discovered at the site in Washington County known as Medowcroft Rock Shelter. Over the centuries other Native peoples hunted and later settled in this region. These included the Monongahela and the Moundbuilders. In the more recent historical past the most relevant Indigenous peoples occupying the states of Pennsylvania and New York was a group of over 15 nations belonging to the Iroquoian language family. These nations included a formal league of five of those tribes. This confederation of five Iroquoian-speaking nations was called the Haudenosaunee (Longhouse People). The league included the Seneca of western Pennsylvania, as well as the Cayuga, Onondaga and Oneida of the Finger Lakes in north central New York state and the Mohawks of the Adirondaks in eastern New York state. This was a very powerful Indigenous alliance whose articles of confederation are reputed to have provided an important model for the framers of the original United States constitution. The Seneca of western Pennsylvania were one of the principal member nations of the Haudenosaunee confederacy. They were the caretakers of a geographical territory that Included Allegheny County as well as lands stretching as far north as Erie County and the Niagara River on the Canada border, and as far south as Washington County, as far west as the center of the state of Ohio and as far east as the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania and the Genesee River in New York state.

One of the most prominent historical Seneca leaders of the 1700's was a chief by the name of Guyasuta. His main settlement was located at the site now occupied by yhe town of Sharpsburg, PA on the north bank of the Allegheny River where he is now honored by a medium-sized statue erected at a prominent intersection. A near-by Boyscout camp also bears his name. A much larger statue of Guyasuta, accompanied by an equally monumental one of George Washington stands at a prominent spot on Grandview Avenue in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Mount Washington. Another important Seneca leader who lived in this area of western Pennsylvania in the 1700's was a clan mother known as Alliquippa. Her village stood at the site now occupied by the town of Mckeesport. She was important enough to demand that Washington stop at her settlement and pay his respects when he arrived here as a very young man on an errand in behalf of the governor of the Virginia colony. 

Another important Seneca leader in this area was a man called Tanacharison, known to the English as "Half King". He lived for a time at a village on the Ohio river, called Logstown.

The Haudenosaunee confederacy had a policy that allowed other tribes to request asylum in their vast territory if they approached in peace and respectfully. A number of tribal groups took advantage of that policy as they were deprived of their own lands by European colonies. One of the earliest of these was an Iroquoian people called the Tuscaroras who were forced out of their homes in the Carolinas and travelled north to New York state. They were welcomed in as a sixth member of the Haudenosaunee confederacy and were settled in the Finger Lakes region. Later several non-Iroquoian tribes also reached out to the Haudenosaunee confederacy for protection. The Algonquian-language people called the Lenapi (Delawares) were driven from their homes in New Jersey. The state of Delaware and the Philadelphia region by English settlers. They travelled west into central Pennsylvania, but were also chased out of there by colonist-perpetrated massacres and violence along the Susquehanna River. The exiles crossed the Allegheny mountains and entered Seneca territory. Since the Lenapi exiles were not Iroquoians they were not allowed to become full members of the confederation like the Tuscaroras, but the Senecas still allowed them to settle at sites along the Allegheny River. One of the most important Lenapi villages of the 1700's was Shanopin's Town on the southern bank of the river at the site now occupied by the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville in Arsenal Park. Another Algonquian-language tribe also was allowed by the Senecas to maintain a presence in western Pennsylvania. These people were the Shawnee. There was a strong Shawnee presence at the village of Kittaning on the Allegheny River several miles north of Pittsburgh. Another  extremely important Indigenous community inhabited by Shawnees was the aforementioned  community of Logstown  located on the Ohio River a few miles beyond the Allegheny and Monongahela confluence. This other village, existed at a site close to the present-day communities of Ambridge and Alliquippa just north of Pittsburgh. It was predominantly composed of Shawnee residents. Another important Shawnee/Lenapi village was situated near the present-day community of Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania and was called Kushkushking.

Many Senecas, Shawnees and Lenapi played an important role in support of the French and against the English during the French And Indian War. Although a number of other members of the Haudenosaunee confederacy, such as the Mohawk remained English allies, a large number of the Native people of this region considered the English settlers to be their greatest threat since their only interest appeared to be simply the acquisition of Indigenous land at any cost. The English king assured the Natives that English soldiers would protect them from English colonial intrusion in principle, but that seldom worked in practice. The settlers just kept on coming west like a tidal wave across the Allegheny mountains. 

The English won the French And Indian War and the Native people of western PA lost more land. The English soldiers made a half-hearted effort at keeping the English settlers out of the remaining Native lands but it really did not work. Finally the English colonists declared themselves independent fron England and launched a revolutionary war. Again the Native people attempted to save what little they had left by siding with the crown but, of course, that turned out to be the losing side once more. 

At the end of the Revolutionary War the new nation called the United States took away most of the lands that remained in Haudenosaunee control and destroyed the political power of the confederacy. All the Shawnees and Lenapis were driven out of our region and west into Ohio and Indiana. The Senecas were left with a number of tiny reservations in New York state and only one in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania reservation was called Corn planter's Grant.  It was located high up north on the Allegheny River in Warren County not far from the New York state border. That Seneca community survived well into the Twentieth Century. Then in 1965 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed a flood control project along most of the length of the stream that included a dam built right next to the Warren County reservation. The dam created a large reservoir that almost completely oblitrated the Conrnplanter's Grant reservation. The residents of the community were forcibly moved out of the area under protest and against their will. They were relocated north across the state border in the New York state Allegany Seneca Indian Reservation miles from their native Pennsylvania home. There is no longer a Native reservation in the state of Pennsylvania.

Over the years since the last of the original Native people of our region were dispossessed of their lands some of them settled in the non-Native rural and urban communities of the area, especially the city of Pittsburgh. Local industrial jobs also attracted Native people from other places. Enventually western Pennsylvania became the home of a variety of families and individuals belonging to or descended from Native tribes from all over the continent. By the late 1960's a number of urban Native families in the city of Pittsburgh had organized themselves into an urban Indigenous center called the COUNCIL OF THREE RIVERS AMERICAN INDIAN CENTER. This organization developed into a social service agency that now serves Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents in the region. 

Since very ancient times the Senecas perceived their relationship as a people with the natural environment that was their home as a sacred understanding. Now the residents of the three main surviving Seneca reservations in the neighboring regions of western New York state have established a coallition with non-Indigenous people living in these areas. The coalition is called DEFEND O:HIYO' which uses the Seneca language name of the Allegheny River. This coallition is dedicated to protecting the area of western New York and western Pennsylvania from the destructive consequences of fossil fuel acquisition and transportation. Most of the environmental activism of this organization targets fossil fuel pipelines and fracking.

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